Blood in your stool is a scary sight, especially when you don’t know what’s causing it. Sometimes it can be a sign of something serious, but most of the time it’s something completely treatable.
Healthy bowel movements should be brown, look like a sausage, and should be smooth and soft, says physician assistant Al Bisong of Citrus Primary Care in Citrus Springs, Florida. “And you should have between one and two bowel movements with this look a day.” But remember that everyone has their own bowel habits—while one to two a day is normal for some, one to two a week is normal for others.
A normal bowel movement shouldn’t be painful—and shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes or so, says Bisong. You also shouldn’t have to push or strain, and you shouldn’t have so much urgency you can barely hold it.
6 reasons you may have blood in your stool
If you notice you have blood in your stool, in the toilet or on the toilet paper after having a bowel movement, see your primary care doctor or get emergency help for severe bleeding. Here are some of the health conditions the bowel change may signal.
Ulcerative colitis: This disease occurs when the large intestine (colon) becomes inflamed. The colon develops open sores that generate pus and mucous. Common colitis symptoms include bloody stool, abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue and you may find yourself having to go to the bathroom more frequently.
The inflammation may be a result of an abnormal immune reaction caused by a combination of genetics and some kind of trigger like a certain medication or substances in food. Colitis treatment typically involves medication to reduce inflammation and the activity of the immune system, eliminating any foods that aggravate your symptoms like spicy foods and dairy products, and in more extreme cases, surgery to remove the colon may be suggested.
Colorectal polyps: Polyps, abnormal growths that begin in the inside lining of the colon or rectum, affect 20 to 30 percent of American adults. Most polyps are not cancerous, but some may be precancerous.
Polyps are easily removed during a colonoscopy, so most doctors recommend removing them in case they are cancerous.
Internal hemorrhoids:Hemorrhoids are inflamed veins located in the lining of the anus or lower rectum. Common hemorrhoid causes include straining regularly to poop, or prolonged constipation or diarrhea. Stool softeners, warm baths, adding more fiber to your diet and proper pooping habits can relieve symptoms.
Most doctors recommend lifestyle changes and over-the-counter pain relievers and hemorrhoid creams before major treatments like rubber band ligation and sclerotherapy. These more serious treatments and are only used if the first round of treatment options aren’t effective.
Diverticular disease: When small pouches form in the inside wall of the colon, it’s called diverticulosis. Changes in bowel movements such as hard stools may irritate the colon and cause bleeding. A high fiber diet, and medication such as mesalazine can help symptoms like pain and bloating, but you may need a colonoscopy or surgery to stop the bleeding completely.
Anal fissures: Trauma from hard, dry or loose, frequent bowel movements may cause anal fissures, small rips or tears that appear in your anal canal. A high-fiber diet that includes lots of water can help give the tears a chance to heal, and medications like lidocaine can help the pain around the anus.
Angiodysplasia: Angiodysplasia means swollen, abnormal blood vessels in the beginning part of the colon, says Bisong. This condition is most common in adults, since the aging process can break down blood vessels. Most of the time, the bleeding stops on its own, but a colonoscopy or procedure to block the artery may be needed if not. Recurring, severe bleeding might require surgery to remove part of the colon.
3 ways to keep your bowels healthy
Most of these health conditions are easily treated and can be monitored at home. And even if you don’t have blood in your stool, it’s important to take preventive measures to avoid the yucky issue all together. Keep your bowel in check with these 3 tips.
1. Understand your bowel schedule: Tune into your day-to-day poop cycle, and make notes if consistency, composition or frequency change.
2. Eat a high-fiber diet and drink lots of water: Eat a lot of fiber-rich foods like beans and whole grains, or take a fiber supplement two or three times a day, recommends Bisong. Women should have 25 grams of fiber per day, and men should shoot for 38. And flush out your digestive system with water—aim for eight, eight-ounce glasses a day.
3. Don’t wait until you’re constipated: If you wait to address your pooping problems until you’re constipated, you may be increasing your risk of health problems. If your bowel movement isn’t flowing regularly, see your doctor, says Bisong.
“Sometimes, we wait a little too long because it’s not painful. If you see a doctor at the first signs of blood or other problems, the condition probably won’t be in the advanced stage,” says Bisong.